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Filing the “Tiger Mother’s” Claws

07/02/2011

I’m rather mesmerized by the entire debate that’s flared up around the recently-released Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua. I’ve even contributed my two cents in a previous post, but the subject bears revisiting simply because it brings up an ongoing and fantastic debate about how to most effectively parent your children.

I, of course, am not yet a parent. That happy day is sometime in the not-too-distant future, but because I tend to think five steps ahead and prefer being overprepared to being blind-sided, I have developed my own concept of how I believe we (that is, Brian and me, not the all-societal “we”) should raise our children when they arrive.

Cracked.com ran an article today, “5 Reasons Parenting Is One Place We Shouldn’t Imitate China“. While Cracked is primarily a humor and satire site, contributor Christina H lends a very logical and legitimate (though Westernized, of course) perspective to the idea of raising winners v. free thinkers — a false antinomy that undermines the argument entirely. That is, one can be successful and also be a free thinker. As she says, “Both Chinese parents and American parents have strengths and weaknesses, but you don’t fix your weaknesses by picking up somebody else’s not-even-related weaknesses.” The strength of the Chinese parenting model is that the parents are fully engaged in their child’s development; the strength of the American model is that is provides approval and positive reinforcement for good behavior. These things are mutually exclusive, not at odds with one another.

In the meantime, Chua has been castigated by all corners of society — including fellow Chinese-American parents who have worked hard to throw off what they see as harmful means of raising a child and have adopted the more relaxed approach of their new home. She argues that Battle Hymn was misrepresented in the blurbs and excerpts published in various newspapers and journals; it is a memoir, not a how-to, and part of the journey for her was the realization that the “Tiger Mother” could retract her claws and still achieve the best for her children. In fairness, I haven’t read the book, though it is on my NOOK wish list. With that in mind I think we should all temper (valid) criticism with the understanding that Chua isn’t advocating the “Tiger Mother” approach or attempting to impose it on others; instead, she is telling her story and sharing all the ways that she feels she did right — and wrong — by her children.

Since I’m in the parenting mode, I also want to share a Stumble gem I found last week in a few moments of boredom – “How to Teach a Kid to Argue” by Jay Heinrichs, as published on Figures of Speech Served Fresh. (I highly recommend the entire blog, for the record.) In the article, Heinrichs discusses how he has taught his children to be more persuasive using Aristotle’s rhetorical styles of logos (logic), ethos (character), and pathos (emotion) to shape their arguments effectively. My favorite part is an anecdote in which he entirely reverses his child’s reasoning by employing logic to the argument; throughout the article, though, Heinrichs is compelling and entertaining as well as enlightening.

I can think of several times from my youth when communication broke down and I was poorly served by a poor argument. Because of that, and of the importance in revitalizing intelligent and effective debate, Brian and I will definitely employ Aristotle’s wisdom in teaching our children to argue — that is, if we can figure it out.

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